Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Set Free From Fear

by Timothy Howe

I love traveling. There have been times in my life when I never truly felt at home like being in an airplane or an airport. I know how strange that might sound, but there is just something about going places. As a result, I've made it to six continents and many countries. 

So, it might come as a surprise, that occasionally I still think, "I hope this plane gets off the ground." Yet, it still seems unfathomable that such a huge collection of metal can get airborne. The laws of aerodynamics explain why this is possible. The law of common sense tells me otherwise in the seconds that the jet is hurling down the runway. 

So, that's my admission. This travel still occasionally gets tinges of fear at takeoff. Yet, it is only a tinge. I still climb on board of airplanes without apprehension because ration overcomes irrational fear. You might say that I fly in airplanes because I am set free from the fear of flying. 

It would be quite different if my fear still control my actions. I have known people who suffer from paralyzing, indecisive fear. Are you one of those? What fears do you have? Have you ever examined them to see how rational they are? The scriptures teach us:

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. 
Proverbs 29:25

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 
2 Timothy 1:7

May you set free from fear. 

And by being set free,
                             What are you ready to do today?
                             Where are you ready to go today?

Accept God's Best, Nothing Less

by Timothy Howe

A Promise Fulfilled
We have seen the story of Joshua, God granted the people of Israel their Promised Land. What God said he would accomplish for this people, He did. 

His fulfilled promise demonstrated his care.
He cared about Abraham. Abraham would be called a friend of God. He followed God by faith. God's fulfilled promise was a fulfillment of His relationship with Abraham.

He cared about the Israelites. He protected them as they wandered through the desert. He provided for them in their hunger. His presence proceeded them and followed them on their journey. 

He cared about His promise. God keeps his word. The entrance into the Promised Land by Israel shows that God is faithful. 

A Promise Deferred
At the very time that God manifested His faithfulness, part of Israel demonstrated their faithlessness. 

Eastern Tribes
Joshua 22 records the story of 2½ tribes who decided that they did not want what God promised. The tribes had noticed other land that they preferred which was outside of the scope of what the Lord had in store for them. 

The Land of Gilead
These 2½ tribes returned to the land they originally wanted in 22:1-6. They had chosen the land of Gilead on account of their wealth matched the perceived wealth of the land. We find this story in Numbers 32:1-5. This land was outside of the promise of God (22:9). The result ended up with most of the people of Israel in land of Canaan and these Eastern Tribes remaining in land of Gilead.

The Eastern tribes stayed in Gilead because they thought they knew best. They failed because they thought they knew best. Truly the Lord knows what is best for us. 

An altar at the Jordan
The Eastern Tribes made the situation worse by erecting an altar at the Jordan out of in direct disobedience to God's word. The nation of Israel was instructed to worship the Lord only at the Tabernacle. The Eastern Tribes' altar resembled a worship site so much that the other tribes were willing to go to war with them. The Eastern Tribes explained that the altar was only a memorial stone. The truth is that the altar represented their selfishness  and fear. (22:24ff) 

The assembly of Israel accepted the altar and the explanation of the Eastern Tribes because it was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. They thought they knew best. They failed because they thought they knew best.

As you read the rest of the story of Israel, one thing stands out. These 2½ would eventually disappeared. They merged into the other peoples who inhabited the land of Gilead. They would worship their gods and turn their back on God. Their rejection of God's best led to their ultimate demise.

Are you wandering?
You might be wandering during a desert time in your life. Rely on God to bring you through it. Wait on the the Lord. He will see you to what He has in store for you. 

Are you waiting?
Can you imagine? The Lord has something planned, and people would willingly choose a different outcome. Yet, I wonder how many of us do that very thing. We are on the path of God's best for our life, when we get distracted by something else. Some of these distractions might even be "good," but they are not God's "best." Why accept something inferior to God's best?

Have the courage to accept God’s best for your life and nothing less.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wait for God’s Best, Nothing Less

by Timothy Howe

The Promised Land
Joshua 22-24 wraps up the story of Israel entering into the Promised Land. The Promised Land was the name given to ancient Canaan after God promised to Abraham that his descendants would one day inherit the territory as their own. Hundreds of years had transpired from the time of the initial promise until it actually takes place. Entrance into this land was evidence that God keeps His word. 

The story of the Israelites moving into the Promised Land is one about delaying God's best. About 40 years previous to the events described in Joshua the Israelites stood on the brink of receiving the promise when they rejected it and chose to live in the desert. They made this decision based on fear, lack of confidence, and the personal wisdom. Had they chosen to set aside fear, had they chosen to be confident in the Lord, had they chosen to walk in His wisdom and not their own, they could have received the promise an entire generation sooner. 

Completion of a Plan
The book of Joshua is one that many people have trouble with due to the war narratives and seemingly capricious nature of God. Sometimes it is hard to make out what actions are the result of directives from God and which ones are from man. Ultimately, the story is about the fulfillment of a plan that God  had for His chosen people - a people not chosen on merit, but chosen on account of the faithfulness of their ancestor Abraham. What God begins, he completes. 

An Inheritance
Joshua 24:28 tells us - So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance. The reception of the Promised Land is recorded in Joshua with the final note being this word about their receiving their inheritance. When I think of an inheritance, I usually imagine someone just getting it. There does not usually seem to be any work involved. So if the Promised Land was an inheritance, why did they have to conquer it? In looking at the entrance into the Land, it seems that when they did try to do so on their own terms they suffered humiliating defeats or made inappropriate compromises. When they followed God's plan it was sort of like just accepting an inheritance. This leads me to conclude that maybe they kept trying to make things harder that they actually were. The Land was already given to them. All that they had to do was go and possess it. Yet even this they turned into a matter of hard work as if to prove how worthy they were to receive it. 

A Purpose for Every Person
I am convinced that God has a plan for everyone, a purpose for every person, and that His plans have our best in mind. Sometimes we don't realize them until later. We just have to wait. 

What promises from God are you waiting on right now?
What hopes in God are you clinging to right now?
Hang on. Don't give up. Be faithful and the Faithful One will act.

Ask yourself, 
How am I being sidetracked from God's best for me?
Am I truly willing to wait until God completes His best for me?
Will I accept His inheritance?
What is my purpose in this world?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Have the Courage to Serve God

by Timothy Howe

Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
from Joshua 24:14-15

Have the courage to serve God sincerely.
In this world, it is easy to get by doing the bare minimum...for a while. Eventually, your dedication to something will be recognized. Our Father doesn't just want us to serve him half-heartedly. He desires genuine, sincere service for Him. Earlier in Deut., Moses had already told Israel how to serve the Lord sincerely. 

With your whole being.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Deut. 6:4-5
Jesus added to this…
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
                                                          Mark 12:30-31
Have the courage to serve God faithfully.
Many people have the right attitude in serving God, but permit it to only surface occasionally. Joshua understood this and so he told the people that in addition to sincere and genuine service, they needed to demonstration faithful service. 

Put away your idols.
Part of the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel was their worship of false gods. They carried around these little metal figurines and worshiped them. They were called idols. Now this certainly is no problem for us, or is it? I wonder what idols we carry around today. Our might not be live human-like carved figurines. It may look more like a new car, a status symbol, a retirement account, etc. An idol is anything that we put before God. 

Let us ask ourselves:
How sincerely am I serving God? 
How consistently am I serving God? 
What “idols” am I serving instead of God? 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our Power Over Fear

by Timothy Howe

But Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope
Heb 3:6 NLT

Fear can be debilitating. it thwarts dreams and keeps us from accomplishing all that God has in store for us. This week, we have seen how fear can be overcome. Hebrews 3:6 tells us that we have two weapons in our arsenal against fear. These represent the power that we have over fear - confidence and hope. 

Confidence and Hope
On their own merits confidence and hope are powerful things. Confidence instills within us the ability to tackle the challenges that life throws at us. Hope stirs us up to endure. I have seen people in terrible circumstances who exhibit both of these characteristics and I have seen people in much less severe difficulties surrender any ounce of confidence or hope that they would make it. It is at least in part matters of choice and attitude.

Confidence in...
What gives us confidence. Many times we are able to muster self-confidence in order to persevere in the midst of trials. Self-confidence is a powerful character trait. Yet, it is limited by the truth of our limitations. We may possess a strong self-confidence, but there will come a time when we come to the point of our incapability. At that moment what do we do?

Confidence in hope...
The passage above tells us where to place out confidence in order to extend it, to make it go beyond ourselves and our limitations. We are to place our confidence in hope. This is a hope that our limitations are not the limitations of our realities. We have so much more that is available to us that just what our skills afford us. What we desire to achieve that we are not really capable of falls into the realm of hope. 

Confidence in our hope of Christ.
Ultimately, our hope is in the One who is most capable. The confidence we have is not just there is something better out there, but that there is a "best" out there that is available for us which empowers us. This "best" is Jesus. Christ offers us an ultimate reality that far exceeds anything we are capable of on our own.

Know that when fear comes, you have something greater. You have confidence and hope available for you and more importantly, you have the Author of each present with you. He is your power over your fears.

May you demonstrate confidence and hope in Christ today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Have the Courage to Overcome Fear

by Timothy Howe

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV.

On Monday we looked at God's command to Joshua to have courage. God told him "Be strong and courageous," (Joshua 1a ESV) in order to encourage him because of the enormity of the task before him. He would have to lead this less than perfect people through many obstacles  to arrive at the place God had prepared for them. 

Fears and Doubts 
The people of Israel would have to overcome many of there fears, too. At teach step of their journey there were sure to be fears and doubts. They had either grown up as slaves or as nomads in a desert. What did they know about becoming conquerors? How would they know how to govern the land once they ruled it? How would they adjust to a settled life after their lives as wanderers? 

Irrational Fear
Sometimes our fear is irrational. For example, a child might be fearful of a perfectly pleasant bedroom once the lights are turned off and the shadows loom large. Irrational fear is not limited to children. It come out of extensive worry over things that we cannot control. This sort of fear has its origin in distrust. One who lacks confidence that God is in charge can easily become fearful of the things of this world.

The Reality of Fear 

Certainly fear can be irrational, but most often, our fears are based on realities. People are afraid that they will lose their job based on the economic health of their company or their job performance reviews. A unique new pain carries a fear of what the doctor may say. The tone of voice and body language between two people creates fear that the relationship is not going well. The missed mortgage payments and subsequent letters from the bank create a perfectly reasonable fear that the home may soon be lost.

Is Fear Bad?
I don't think so. I don't think that fear in itself is a bad thing. Fear can motivate us into action. Rational fear comes about as a result of a proper understanding of our circumstances and can be a call to do something about them. The key is who remains in charge - the fear or us?

Our Response to Fear
2 Tim. 1:7 tells us the correct understanding of the role of fear in our lives. It is not to take control. We all have fears, but we must not have a "spirit of fear." In other words, it must not dominate our way of thinking. We must treat our fears in a healthy way and then release them. 

As Israel entered into the Promised Land there would have been many moments where fear could have taken over considering all the questions asked earlier. It would have been easy to hear, "we can't do this." But we have a clearer understanding from hindsight of what God intended for them. He created them to be conquerors, not fearful.

A Perfect Blend to Combat Fear
Power, Love and Self-Control
Instead of a spirit of fear, we are to embrace a "spirit of power, love, and self-control." I am glad that Paul included all three of these together as a response to fear. Can you imagine the pitfalls of any one of these absent others in response to fear. Power can certainly be abusive with love or self-control. Love can be ineffective without the other two and self-control makes little sense with the others. The three together create a perfect mechanism to fight our fears.

So, release your fears. Give them over to God. You are created to be a conqueror. Mobilize His spirit of power, love and self-control.  

Have the courage to Overcome.

Jeremy Camp puts to music the call to Overcome. Enjoy.
Overcome by Jeremy Camp 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We Don't Have to Fear Anything

Todays post is by guest blogger Tristine Fleming. Please check out her blog at NOTE TO SELF: Daily Reminders from God.

Too many people today live in constant fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of taking chances, fear of following their dreams because they have a fear of failure, or worse yet, a fear of success! If the Lord is our Helper, what do we truly have to fear?

REMINDER FROM GOD: I did not give you a spirit of fear, but of love, power and self-control. My perfect love drives out all fear. Don’t fear, those who are with you outnumber those who are not. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be dismayed. I AM with you. [My righteous ones] are as bold as a lion. Say with confidence, “The Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid.” Be men and women of courage, and be strong. You never have to fear disaster, because you are MORE than a conqueror!

{2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18; 2 Kings 6:16; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Proverbs 28:1; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Zephaniah 3:15; Romans 8:36}

The notion to, “Fear not,” is one of the most repeated commandments in the bible. Did you catch that? “Fear not,” is a commandment. Not an idea, or a desired outcome, or hope, but rather a command from God. John also indicated that because God’s perfect love casts out all fear, if we are still living in fear then we are not in God’s perfect love. Whoa! Raise your hand if you just realized you’re not living in God’s perfect love.

The word afraid is mentioned in the New Testament thirty-five times, while the word fear shows up eighty-three times. When we consider Paul’s letter to Timothy when he declares, “God has not given you a spirit of fear,” the Greek word used is, deilia, or deiliao, which refers to being cowardice or timid. In other words, God didn’t create you to be a scardy cat, He created you to be bold and powerful, but you need to use that power in love, while having self-control of that boldness so it doesn’t cross over into pride.

Keri Wyatt Kent, author of, “Deeper into the Word: New Testament,” describes it like this:
“Fear of God means having a right-sized view of ourselves and God…When we fear God, we don’t have to fear anything else.”

How we see God is typically how we will see ourselves. I know there are many moments in my life when I feel God “can’t” do something. I didn’t have a “right-sized view” of God, therefore, I typically find myself trembling in fear that my situation will never change.

In the devotional, Growing with Purpose, author Jon Walker explains:  “God didn’t create you to fail; he created you to succeed…” (The God-Chip; pg. 15). I then began to make a list of the biggest fears I have and most of them had to do with failure. Walker then instructed:  “Tell God your fears and ask Him to replace your fears with faith.” So after writing my fears, I didn’t merely ask God to replace them with faith, I went a step further. I wrote HOW God has given me a spirit to succeed.

This was my list. Fear (Faith).
Fear of failing as a mother. (God created me to be a good mother!)
Fear of failing as a writer. (God gave me the gift to write!)
Fear of failing at success. (God gives me the abilities to succeed!)
Fear of living in poverty. (God IS my Provider!)
Take some time today and make a similar list. I challenge you to consider your fear and how you can overcome it by faith, courage, and power (all the things God has already given to us!).

Tristine Fleming is a freelance writer, compassionate volunteer, semi-frazzled stay at home mommy, lover of food, recipe treasure hunter, and all around great cook (and is a sucker for pastries, cakes, books, magazines, and fancy shoes). She attended Columbia College of Chicago as a Fiction Writing major, and resides in Kenosha, Wisconsin with her husband Jared, and their near-three year old son, Tavin. Her blog, NOTE TO SELF: Daily Reminders from God, has blessed and encouraged men and women across the globe, and is linked to international charity organizations such as Gospel for Asia and Compassion International.  Since November 2011, Tristine’s blog has inspired readers to sponsor fourteen children through Gospel for Asia’s, Bridge of Hope program.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Have the Courage to Overcome Excuses

by Timothy Howe

Last week I spoke about accepting God's plan for your life. This week I want to reflect on the practical side of doing so. It all starts with courage

In Joshua 1:6, God tells Joshua: 
Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.

The Lord will repeat these words "be strong and courageous" two more times immediately following this passage. Why did he utter this command to His servant Joshua? Well, consider the immensity of Joshua' task. 

Joshua had to replace a very popular leader.
Joshua receives these instructions upon taking over leadership from Moses. Wow, can you imagine the precedent that Moses had set. Moses, the one who freed the slaves, who talked with God, who received God's commandments, who parted waters, defeated enemies and who guided a vast people for over a generation. It would be easy to be queasy if we were in Joshua's shoes. But remember, Joshua had walked along side Moses. He assisted Moses in many of those tasks. The Lord had chosen Joshua because of His faithfulness and the Lord would be with him in difficult times.  

Joshua had to lead a less than perfect people. 
What makes a great championship sports team? Is the players or is it the coach? Certainly it is both. Yet, a great coach cannot win without good players. This explains why even the greatest coaches can be fired. Joshua had a team of complainers, of people who had a legacy of slavery, failure and fear. These are the children of the very people who rejected Joshua's leadership 40 years prior when he and Caleb called the people to take the Promised Land the first time. This is not who a good leader would have asked for in conquering a new land. Yet, it is who God called Joshua to lead.  

Joshua had huge obstacles standing before him.
Joshua had the job of moving a large group of people into a new land that was already in the possession of other people. What a daunting task! The logistics alone would take an army of coordinators. They had to consider how to feed all these people, they had to cross a river without modern engineering technologies, they had to prepare an army to fight an entrenched people, and throughout all this they continued to maintain the tabernacle practices God had instituted under Moses.

Joshua had easy excuses to fail. 
Where Moses was raised to be a king in Pharoah's house, Joshua was raised to be a slave. Joshua could have remained bitter over Israel's previous rejection of his leadership. Joshua was around 80 years old when he took charge of Israel. He could have felt his best days were behind him, and let someone else take the reins. For these reasons, God encouraged Joshua to overcome any potential fears and to have the courage to accomplish what He had in store. Even though Joshua had reasonable excuses for failure, he ignored them and lived out the courage God commanded. 

What obstacles do you need to overcome to accomplish what God has in store for you this week? this month? this year? 

What excuses do you need to overcome to accomplish what God has in store for you this week? this month? this year?

This week we will be looking at having the courage to overcome one of the chief obstacles - fear

We will also have a guest blogger join us - Tristine Fleming who has her own daily blog that you will want to check out - NOTE TO SELF: Daily Reminders from God. I will be a guest blogger on her blog this week as well. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rain Results in Fruit

by Timothy Howe

Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. Isa 45:8 ESV

Rain. I am watching it come down at this moment. And no one is complaining. We need it badly. This has been a dry year. The hills that should normally be green around us are still a shade between brown and grey. But with this week's abundant rainfall, that should change.

Creation Responds to God's Blessing
God has made His creation to respond to His blessings. His falling rain will result in green hills, beautiful flowers, tasty fruit, necessary crops, etc. God blessing's also bears fruit in us. The prophet Isaiah understood that the Lord's poured out righteousness would result in double blessing for His people. 

Righteousness Results in Salvation
The Hebrews were facing terrible times when Isaiah prophesied. Foreign Empires threatened to destroy God's people. Most of the people were taken into captivity and disappeared to history. But God would bring salvation in the person of Cyrus. He defeated the Babylonians and restored the nation of Judah. It was out of this stump (Isa. 6:13) that the Lord would bring salvation not just to the Hebrews but to all people through Jesus, His Suffering Servant (Isa. 52-53). God's righteousness provided for Jesus to come on our behalf. Jesus' righteousness results in our salvation.

Righteousness Results in Righteousness
The Lord's righteous, when poured out on His people, results in righteousness. The message of salvation is too often reduced to an insurance policy to get us into heaven, but it is much more than that. When we re-establish a right relationship with God, the righteousness of God is re-inaugurated in our lives so that not only are we ultimately not held accountable for our wrongdoing, but we are made capable of right-doing.   

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10 ESV.

So one of the best effects of our salvation is that the Lord's righteousness results in our righteousness.

May the Lord's salvation and His righteousness abound in your life daily

St Patrick's 

Friday, March 16, 2012

What will God accomplish through you?

by Timothy Howe

We have seen in Acts 16 that God prevented Paul from continuing the ministry he was already successfully doing in order to give Him a new vision to which Paul responded in obedience. The unfolding of the rest of the story is remarkable.

Paul took the Gospel to a new place
Paul was the first person recorded to take the gospel to Europe. He was definitely the first person to take the gospel to Macedonia. God calls many people to different expectations, but what a satisfying joy in the Lord it is to be on the cutting edge of the advance of the gospel. Paul had already done his "part." He could have spent his life training the believers that he had seen come to know the Lord in Asia Minor, but he opted to see what else God had in store for him.

Paul met unexpected results
I find it interesting that the vision Paul received in Troas was of a man requesting him to come to Macedonia, yet his first convert a woman. His next significant work in Philippi was of the healing of the demon-possessed girl. We don't see a man converted until the jailer asks "What must I do to be saved?" in Acts 16:30. Paul found a balance between explicitly following God and being prepared for the unexpected opportunities God laid before them. There are constantly times in our lives when God may be working and if we are not spiritually ready for them, we might miss the greatest opportunities for ministry. 

Paul created close friendships 

Paul later writes with much affection in his letter to the Philippians. He calls them partners in the gospel, and tells him that he longs to be with them. Paul found that in obeying God, he was not only accomplishing an objective, but he was also establishing lifelong friendships. God rewards our obedience in beautiful ways throughout and after ministry beyond the fruit that ministry produces. 

Paul established a powerful legacy
The ministry that Paul began in Macedonia flourished. Paul's letter to the Philippians is much more positive than his other letters because he has less to correct in them. He even references them as a positive example to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8). In a broader sense, Paul's work in Macedonia went beyond Philippi to a church that daily searched the scriptures (Berea) and another church that he would later boast about (Thessalonica). 

Paul's work had eternal significance 

There are people in heaven because of Paul's obedience. God accomplished amazing things because Paul was willing and able, and because he responded. Paul gave up being a Pharisee, being important, having a life of comfort, etc., because he decided to pour himself into things that matter for eternity. 

To whom are you taking the gospel?

Are you are at a personal state in which you are spiritually attuned to the ministry opportunities, even unexpected ones, that God has prepared for you right now?

Are you establishing close godly friendships? 

What is the spiritual legacy that you will leave?

What are you doing that will have eternal significance?

What will God accomplish through you?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How will you respond to God?

by Timothy Howe

In Acts 16, we see where God prevented Paul from going down the path he was headed and gave him a new vision. Now we see Paul's response.

Paul responded to the Lord’s vision

When God gave Paul a clear vision, Paul did not ignore it. He responded. He acted.

He was willing to respond.
Paul knew the truth that one cannot use the two words "No" and "Lord" in the same sentence. Since his life was already surrendered to God, there was no issue for him to struggle with, "Should I go to Macedonia or should I stay here?" When the Lord spoke, he was willing and eager to say, "Yes."

He was able to respond.
We have already seen that Paul had put his life in a position that he could move at the impulse of God. Paul had left behind any hindrances that could have encumbered him. He was sitting in Troas so that he could cross over right into Macedonia the moment that word came from God. He made himself well prepared even though he was previously unaware of the exactitude of God's call because he had continuously sought God's will in his life up to this point. 

Paul responded to the Lord's vision immediately
Once Paul knew what the Lord expected of him, he responded immediately. He did not dither and worry about when the right moment might be to respond. He did so right away. Upon receiving the vision, he informed his team of their new directive and they set out. There was no delaying in order to set affairs straight. Since he was willing and able, he went.  

Paul responded to the Lord's vision correctly
The vision Paul received explicitly told him what to do. He was to take the gospel to Macedonia. Paul did not veer from this call. He went directly to Macedonia where the Lord had already orchestrated events so that Paul could meet Lydia and eventually start a church. 

Paul responded to the Lord's vision completely
Paul's response was "all in." He followed it completely, not adding to our taking away from God's call. He avoided the pitfalls of distractions along the way. The text indicates that at least Luke joined the team at this point suggesting that Paul retooled his team for the task God had given him. Paul accomplished the goal God set for him. Going to Macedonia, Paul preached the gospel to the God-fearer, to the crowd upset about the healing of the servant girl, to the jailer and presumably to the magistrates.

Are you both willing and able to respond to the Lord's vision for you? Will you do so immediately, correctly and completely. Doing so, may cause personal suffering - remember Paul was beaten and went to jail in Macedonia - but it can bring tremendous glory to God.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is God asking you to do?

by Timothy Howe

Which way?
Sometimes it is so hard to figure out just what God is doing. What are we supposed to do? Yesterday we saw how Paul was prevented from going to a certain place to start a new work. 

Paul focused on what God was doing
Clearly, Paul got the message when the Spirit of Jesus prevented him from going to Bythnia. As a result, he stayed the course until he arrived at the end of Asia. He literally got to the point where he could not go forward. Then he waited for God to show him what was next. Paul had confidence that God would give him knew direction. He was not going to have to figure this out on his own. 

Paul was at a place where he could hear God 
Acts 16:9 speaks of the vision Paul received from God. There was no confusion. He was supposed to go to Macedonia. This is in stark contrast to simply being "prevented" from going into Bythnia. The lack of precision in the earlier episode is followed up by a very specific request to go to a specific location. Paul's willingness to listen to God earlier led him to a place of being able to hear clearly when God next spoke. He was able to recognize God's voice because he was constantly in communion with Him. He says so repeatedly in his letters. 

God had a new plan for Paul
The reason that God had prevented Paul's previous strategy from going forward was not because God wanted to punish Paul or cause Him stress. God had a plan to reach Macedonia with the gospel. God knows just what is needed where. He has a plan for each of our lives. No one is here by accident.We all have a purpose. Sometimes the path that we are on is not serving the perfect purpose God has constructed for us. If that is the case, He may ask us to adjust that path to suit His plans. 

God's plan was clear to Paul
Paul had no doubt what God wanted for Him to so. Since he was at a place where he could clearly hear from God, he recognized the message that God gave him. God was asking him to do something new. He wanted him to take the gospel to Europe. Any discouragement Paul may have felt earlier had to now be replaced with the exhilaration that God was about to do something radically new through him. 

How would you answer the following questions?
Am I focused on what God is doing in my life? 
Am I at a place where I can hear from Him?
Can I recognize His plan for my life? 
What is God's plan for my life?

Pray through these questions. Take life off "autopilot," find a convenient time and place, hear from God and assess what He is asking you to do.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What is God preventing you from doing?

by Timothy Howe

This week I am focusing on Acts 16 in which Paul and his companions take the gospel to Macedonia, in what is our first record of the gospel reaching Europe. It was a time of an unparalleled advance of the Gospel. It is easy to assume that all went according to plan. But this would be wrong.

Paul was already successful in ministry 
You will recall that Paul possessed a very fruitful ministry up to this point and  had previously experienced a successful missionary journey. Now he was revisiting some of the places where he had started churches. 

Paul had a good strategy
Paul's strategy up to this point was to go first to the synagogue, reason with the members how Christ fulfilled the scriptures, and work with believers in starting a new congregation. This strategy led his team to start numerous churches.

Paul had a good plan
Paul began this second missionary trip for the purpose of strengthening the churches which had been founded on the earlier trip. This was a good idea considering the hostility they were subject to. During this time he determined to set out to a new region to spread the gospel. This made sense based on what he had already accomplished. 

God prevented Paul from carrying out his plan
Next something strange happened. The Scriptures tell us that the Spirit of Jesus prevented Paul from going to this new region. This does not make human sense. Paul was already doing a good work. We should presume that he would have been just as successful in this new area. Certainly, it would have been good to carry the gospel to a new place. 

God wants what is best
Human sense does not compare to a Divine plan. Yes, it would have been good to start churches in the new region, but God was less interested in what was good. Instead, He pushed Paul towards what was best. God had a plan so much bigger than Paul could have imagined. This week we will see what that plan was. But first, we need to understand that in order to carry out His plan for Paul's life, God had to first prevent Paul from accomplishing Paul's plan for his life. 

What is God preventing you from doing right now?
Whenever you get frustrated that things are not going as expected, it might not be that things are just not working out. Ask yourself the question - "What is God preventing me from doing?" This will help you to open your eyes to see what else he might have in store.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Living Out a Transformed Life

by Timothy Howe

Yesterday, I discussed the call for Christians to live differently in this world, what I call Living Transformed. You will recall how Romans 12:1-2 teaches how to pursue a transformation that comes from God.

Devote Yourself to God.
Be Conformed to God and Nothing Else.
Let God Transform Your Mind to be Like His.

Today I want focus on how to live out a transformed life

Living out a transformed life boils down to two key skills - the ability to... 

1. Discern God's Will.
This devotion-conforming-transformation process creates a spiral of hope. The more you devote yourself to God, the easier it is to conform to Him and the more He is able to transform you. Romans 12:2 tells us that this process leads to the ability to discern His will. Discerning God's will is not the same as understanding His will for our lives. Conforming to God takes the focus off self and places it on God. The discernment is less about our lives and it is more about what God is doing in the world. We will be able to discern God's will in the world and then subject our actions to accomplishing His will. As you begin to discern His will, the next logical step is to...

2. Do God's Will.
It is not enough to know what God is doing. We must join Him. This may not be explicit in Romans 12:1-2, but implicitly discernment leads to doing. Paul expounds on how we do God's will in Romans 12:9-21. The passage portrays a challenging list of expectations for us that is often referred to as the True Marks of Being a Christian. It would be impossible to live out the expectation found here without God. But the same process that leads us to discerning God's will lead us to doing God's will. Obedience to the Father comes about through your relationship with Him. 

Spend your efforts devoting yourself to God, being conformed to God, being transformed by God and you will be able to discern and do God's will.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Living Transformed

by Timothy Howe

We live in a fallen world. The symptoms of this fallenness - moral decay, self-centeredness, pride, dishonest gain, unforgiveness, etc. - often apply to the church as much as the world. Christians are called to so much more. We are called to show something different in our lives, what I call Living Transformed. Romans 12:1-2 tells us how to live transformed.

1. Devote Yourself to God.
In Romans 12:1, Paul appeals for sacrifice of self to God. This sacrifice is different than those in the OT where the sacrifice was destroyed and consumed. Our sacrifice is one of surrender, in which we are used for God's glory and purpose. And yet in a sense we are to be consumed. We are to be consumed with God, filled with His presence in our lives. As we are, His filling presence works in mighty, unimagined ways. But it only comes about through devotion to Him, so you must... 

2. Be Conformed to God and Nothing Else.
Remember wanting to be like other kids in school. I wanted to have designer clothes like my friends or spoke in the acceptable jargon of the day. I began to pattern my life after others. Most of this was in harmless ways, but the act itself was not harmless. For, God has not called us to be like anyone except Him. The attempt to model ourselves after anything other than God is a step in tarnishing the image of God because Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created us in His image. Sin altered our image, but through our faith in Jesus, Paul tells us how we can regain what was lost. It begins by conforming to God, or as Paul puts it, by not conforming to the world. So, you must...

3. Let God Transform Your Mind to be Like His.
Transformation of the mind is no small thing. Each of us is constantly bombarded with garbage. Inappropriate images and unwholesome speech are just clicks away. Many personal relationships rest on the verge of collapse.  Countless individuals live in unrelenting psychological turmoil. Shame, bitterness, anger, pride and fear have abducted minds. Paul tells us that we have the power to end this. Rather, we have access to the power to end it. God can and will transform our minds as we devote ourselves to Him and as we are conformed to Him and nothing else. Paul urged the Philippians (2:5) to have the mind of Christ. This same offer is available to us today. As we walk this path of personal devotion to God He literally causes us to take on the mind of Christ.

Spend your efforts devoting yourself to God, being conformed to God, and being transformed by God.